Clinic Helps Cadet Reach Settlement with Coast Guard Academy Over Policy Banning Parents

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Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Connecticut have reached a settlement with the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on behalf of a former cadet challenging the academy’s policy of banning cadets from being parents. 

In 2014, just weeks before he was expected to graduate, Isaak Olson, a cadet at the USCG Academy, was expelled and denied his completed Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and commission as an officer solely because his fiancée had given birth to their first child. As part of the settlement agreement, Olson will be awarded his degree as well as a written statement explaining that his cadet appointment was terminated solely due to the Academy’s ban on cadet parents.

“No one should ever have to choose between the honor of being a Coast Guard cadet and the honor of being a parent. I’m thankful the Academy has reached a settlement that recognizes my right to both,” Olson said.

“Becoming a parent shouldn’t be seen as a hardship,” he continued. “Cadets who are parents should be afforded the same opportunity to uphold the Coast Guard’s standards as their peers. I look forward to the day that cadets are given the same rights as the rest of the service.”

The Coast Guard Academy policy prohibiting cadets from being parents remains in effect. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 signed by President Biden, the Department of Defense is actively revising similar policies at the U.S. Air Force, Military, and Naval academies to ensure that cadets can preserve their parental rights. The Coast Guard Academy is run by the Department of Homeland Security.

“Isaak Olson was denied his degree and commission because of an unconstitutional policy infringing on one of the most fundamental rights, the decision to become a parent. We hope the Academy acts soon so that no future cadet will be penalized for pregnancy or parenthood,” said Yael Caplan ’23, a law student intern with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. 

Alex Johnson ’24, another law student intern with the Yale clinic, added, “We are thrilled that Mr. Olson has finally received his degree after eight long years, but we look forward to the day when pregnancy and parenthood are no longer barriers for other Coast Guard cadets.” 

Linda Morris, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said the issue extends beyond the Coast Guard Academy. 

“We believe that bans on parenthood are wrong for every military service academy — and, in fact, have no place in any institution,” Morris said. “The Coast Guard Academy’s ban on parenthood was adopted only after it began admitting women as cadets, and is rooted in harmful and outdated gender stereotypes. The Biden administration can and should act immediately to end this discriminatory policy at the Coast Guard Academy.” 

Elana Bildner, staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut, added that the case pointed to the need for protections of cadets’ rights to be parents.

“No school should force students to choose between becoming parents and earning their degrees. It is good news that the U.S. Coast Guard Academy will finally confer Isaak Olson with the degree that he earned,” Bildner said. “Moving forward, we hope that the Academy will honor cadets’ rights to be parents by revising its cadet parenthood ban. Coast Guard cadets in Connecticut should have protections for their right to be parents, just like students at other schools in our state.” 

The suit was filed in federal court on Dec. 8, 2021 by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, and the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut.